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Feb 14, 201912:31 PMOpen Mic

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In business and in health: Commandments for working alongside your significant other

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In theory, working with a significant other may sound like a great idea. Who wouldn’t enjoy spending extra time with their loved one? For those seeking greater balance in life and to spend more time with a spouse, working together may seem like a perfect solution.

Over the past 25 years, I’ve mentored many entrepreneurial couples that have launched and operated successful businesses together from the ground up. Many of these couples made it seem easy, but they’d be the first to tell you that like all relationships and business endeavors, it took a lot of hard work, patience, and dedication to work alongside their life partner in a business setting.

When it comes to successfully working alongside a significant other, it’s often much easier said than done, and it’s certainly not a pathway paved for all. It can be high risk but also high reward.

Based on my experience, there are a handful of commandments that must be followed for those considering a professional pursuit with their partners.

Understand what you're getting into

Just like marriage, entrepreneurship isn’t a 9-to-5 job — it’s a lifestyle choice. A couple who wants to go into business together needs to realize what this entails and must prepare to devote themselves to it. It’s important to truly know yourself and your spouse before taking the plunge into entrepreneurship as partners.

In my role as a franchise consultant, I always make sure prospective owners include the partner/spouse from the initial discussions about starting a business all the way through the final decision, ensuring the conversations we have collectively cover each of their interests and concerns. We go deep into the financial investment, impact of the business on lifestyle, management skills and preferences, how it might impact any household family members, and long-term financial goals.

Some couples work very well together, and know and respect their boundaries and complimentary skills. Others work together, not necessarily happily, and are at odds about aspects of running the business. A rule of thumb? The health of the personal partnership should always come before the business.

Respect each person’s individuality

While there might not be an “I” in team, there certainly is in “business” and “marriage.” Appreciate your significant other’s experience and approach when working together. Just as you would in a relationship or romantic partnership, understand each other for who you are and what you bring to the table, and embrace each other’s skillsets, strengths, and weaknesses.

Another important element of running a business alongside your spouse is to respect each other’s need for engagement. Some people are introverts who tolerate outside activity, while some are extroverts who can’t get enough outside stimulation. Some people thrive in networking situations and need external opportunities to feel engaged, respected, and successful as a professional. On the flip side, networking scenarios aren’t fulfilling to everyone, and although some people adapt, the other partner may thrive more in an environment where they can be engaged behind the scenes.

Respect the past, as the business may have been built before you arrived on the scene. For example, my husband owns businesses from prior to when we met and were married. The employees know my husband but they did not know my business background — or me — and were suspicious of my intentions to engage with them. Be aware that employees may develop a sense of nepotism when the life partner/spouse arrives in the office. We have had to take a slow and steady approach with the staff so that they can get to know me personally, and that has allowed for discussions that involve business decisions.


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